Piranhas, “The Desert”

“Is he dead?” Nelson asked. He struck his pale palms along the top center of the double birch dresser. Bill stepped to the open bathroom window between the large lighted mirror of the vanity and the toilet. Nelson’s body quivered to the desert night’s shrill coldness.

Bill’s deer knife lay bare on the windowpane.

A gigantic shadow of a Juniper bush, despite being common in the austere Utah desert, gave Nelson utter discomfort that he shifted his glance from the bathroom window toward Bill and came closer to the bulbs of the vanity mirror. Nelson saw Silverback was tied to the toilet with braided nylon rope.

A cruel smile settled on Bill’s shiny face. “Silverback? The glorious leader of the Mountain Gorilla motorcycle gang,” Bill rubbed away a spray of bloody spit on his dark mustache and walked onto the dirty navy carpet into the bedroom.

Nelson peered at Silverback. The leader of the appalling Mountain Gorillas, grisly beaten by Bill inside the spacious blood-covered lavatory.

The giant moon that ruled over them all—unforgiving. The swollen, brutal cuts on his cheeks were halfway duck taped. Silverback had a broad appealing chin like Bill, only now it appeared grotesque. Nelson thought it was impossible to distinguish who was the maniac in the motel room anymore.

Bill tossed the stained washcloth into the wastebasket beside the round-end table. Enjoyed the startled look on Nelson.

“Diabetes fucked your hearing?”

“No,” Nelson said. He shot Bill a venomous look. He wasn’t much older than Bill at thirty-six but was the brother cursed with ill health. A slight urge to protect Silverback from sadistic Bill. Nelson staggered over to the window, recognizing that the key fob to the Jeep Wrangler was missing.

There are no allies in the austere desert. He stared at the striking desert stars in bleak recollection of early that day.

Nelson had shielded Silverback’s lady friend, Ivory, from a barbaric rape in the back seat of the Jeep Wrangler. Nelson has been aware of a similar bizarre interest in Ivory. He silently recalled the escape with his brother Bill as he stared at the desert stars that shone like the rearview mirror in the Jeep Wrangler.

Nelson had watched Bill make Ivory swallow a warm golden liquid. She coughed, spilling some onto the tan leather back seat and dropping it onto the clear mat. Bill unbuttoned and unzipped Ivory’s shorts. Nelson was repulsed at Bill’s extreme perversion and pretended he received a text from the boss.

“Bill, the boss has orders and wants you to deal with Silverback alive,” Nelson said. “With a warning that he is probably the beast, the maniac of the Utah canyons.” Bill continued, less earnest, to kiss the side of Ivory’s neck with the brown beauty mark.

The road shrank among the numerous wildflowers, desert cactus, and stiff sagebrush as the blackened Southern West side of the desert seemed flawed with monstrous dread.

Bill was forced to yield to it.

Ivory stared at the dusk with glazed eyes. Bill had refastened her bra. “Silverback,” Ivory said. “The gray wolf is coming.” She passed out on the drugged syrup Bill made her swallow.

Nelson looked over to the passenger seat. Silverback was bleeding from a stab to his shoulder, but he was physically fit and appeared he could bid his time like a wounded moose in the forest.

The striking desert stars provoked more than their strange drive up. Nelson considered that his life had become as sordid, barren, and horrendous as his brother Bill. His regret slew the spell of the striking desert stars and moved away from the birch dresser. He noticed the key fob to the wrangler was lying underneath the armchair where Bill was now seated.

“Right! There was no text with new orders from the boss.” Bill stood up and spat inside the giant square aquarium filled with freakishly large, red-bellied piranhas. “We’re in the godforsaken desert where there is nothing! Only bristlecone pine and sidewinder rattlesnakes.”

Bill shoved Nelson into the wall next to the aquarium. “Stuck here in a fucking cryptic and abandoned motel.”

Nelson was ambushed.

Bill had a metal curtain rod pressed hard against his neck. “Stuck here in a fucking cryptic and abandoned motel.” Bill bent the rod like it was a clothesline.

Nelson struggled, staring fixedly into Bill’s depraved black eyes. He felt like a dying wasp sprayed with an evil poison, and Bill dropped the rod on Nelson’s dress shoes at the loud sound of odd noises that seemed to come from inside the Jeep Wrangler.        

Bill’s eyes locked into the trunk’s direction, where they kept Silverback’s lady friend, Ivory, captive. “Well, my Utah Lily, Ivory is awake,” Bill said. “I’m going to take in a madly fun night with Ivory. Go and get her for me, dear brother.”

“No. You can’t afford that risk,” Nelson lied. “Silverback will never tell us the ring’s location. We’ve got an unbelievable debt that we must pay to our boss. We don’t know when the motel owner will be back.”

“You mean the wacko with pet piranhas the size of small dogs swimming around with crazed teeth and appetites?” Bill replied.

“Hey, nothing’s abnormal or wrong about a person’s own damn aquarium. All right? It’s a hobby, and I’m dying to smoke some weed outside.” Nelson walked around Bill.

Nelson headed outside, vulnerable to the Gray Wolf and numb to any crawling scorpions and centipedes. He was desperate to take advantage of the merchandise they robbed at Ivory’s store, Smokies. They could sell weed and cocaine anywhere, like in Canada, Mexico, and Alaska. Fuck there was universal demand. Nelson walked to the Jeep Wrangler and perched himself on the front hood. He lit up a joint he saved in the back pocket of his fitted silver trousers.

“Hey, Nelson. It’s probably a son-of-a-bitch fairy tale. The Great horned owl ring. Made with the rarest scarlet diamond,” Bill shouted.

Nelson could hear Bill’s vile laughter through the open front window near the closed door when he proceeded to the back of the Jeep Wrangler to check on Ivory.                 

He opened the trunk. Ivory was gone.

Bill ran outside and into the vast, terrible desert with his deer hunting knife and the quilt he ripped from the queen bed to wrap up Ivory’s body once he captured her. Bill had no reservations about killing, and Nelson lost sight of him.

Nelson had retreated inside after a couple of hours. It was midnight when he seated himself in an armchair. And he was exhausted from calling for Ivory and trying hopelessly to save her.

He blocked the bathroom door where Silverback was still lying unconscious. He admitted to himself that he was terrified. Nelson stared at the moon again; it was brilliant white like a bride’s gown.

The moon refracted in the piranhas’ eyes. The desert stars had become like the yellow sand outside, removing the fog from the freshwater of the aquarium.

“I can’t find Ivory.” It was pathetic that Bill feared Silverback’s reputation and believed in the Gray Wolf, Nelson thought.

“Silverback’s nickname is Demon,” Nelson said.

Nelson and Bill shook their heads simultaneously as if they knew Ivory’s cosmic omen was genuine. Bill laid across the width of the bare mattress and fell immediately asleep. Nelson stayed awake and deliberated, abandoning his brother. Some hours passed, and the boss finally returned a call.

“The mountain gorillas are freakish. Cosmic demons, Nelson.” Bill had screamed after he woke from a nightmare.”

“I kidnapped their leader and his lover. I don’t imagine any road having the distance to keep me alive.“

Nelson had soothed him back to sleep at 3:00 A.M. Nelson listened intently. He heard only a few horned toads and squirrels. He was sure the gray wolf was coming as Ivory had said, and a ghostly ache clasped his shoulders.

Nelson’s tongue tingled with thirst. He crept toward the bathroom door where Silverback remained. He unlocked the doorway, opened it slightly, and visually checked the nylon ropes. There were no frays or shredding. Nelson recalled what Bill said. Ivory whispered before he stabbed her in the shoulder, “Silverback is diabolical like a Utah bobcat. He will slaughter you two like mice.”

The desolation of the desert was nothing less than scary. Ivory had hidden somewhere in yucca and cacti. Bill had almost killed her, the goddess of the mountain basin. The piranhas clinking sounds of teeth and thrashing tails against the rim of the aquarium seized Nelson’s attention.

In less than a week, the desert was dour. Nelson and Bill drank all the bottled water.

There was nothing left but the fresh water in the piranha aquarium. Nelson shared some with Silverback, but he thought it was too late. An overwhelming and wretched rot of an animal. Or was it Ivory’s corpse? Nelson wasn’t sure, but whatever spread over the autonomy of the desert was ghastly. 

The piranhas smelled death which made them more ravenous. The boundary line of their water was lower, and they were beginning to suffocate. Nelson and Bill couldn’t reach Silverback for information on where the scarlet ring was kept.

Silverback spat blood and called for his lover, Ivory, when Bill walked in to interrogate him again. “Ivory’s opportunities to help you have expired, though my younger brother had no good desire to witness her pain.” Bill’s mind is entertained by the chaos in the square aquarium and the mesmerizing red glow of the head of the piranhas.

Adam Silverback’s heart was speeding like a jackrabbit attempting to make an irregular escape from a bald mountain eagle. He lifted his head and opened his sore eyes when Bill removed the duck tape and left. He recognized the motel room bathroom when he smelled Ivory’s rose lavender perfume bottles. And the dominant desert star was like an ancient crystal in the enormous oval window. He saw Bill on the bed and Nelson in the armchair beside the aquarium.

The piranhas were Ivory’s gift; they swam agitated whenever they were ready for more worms. One had always stared at Silverback, its eyes ink-black like the tattoo of the Gray Wolf on Adam’s neck.

“They aren’t evil.” Ivory would always say. She sympathized with them and cared for them. Subsequently, Silverback suffered a savage motorcycle accident that left him with head trauma, memory loss, and an erratic animal-like physical intensity. She nursed him to health with marijuana.

The abandoned motel was remote and away from the great forest and townships. Travelers had tired decades ago of the messy maze of faded connected roads. He and Ivory had trespassed when they accidentally discovered it. They enjoyed it. Nevertheless, their stays were becoming shorter and seldom. They had a mysterious yearning to wander with their Harleys Davidsons to scout new places to make theirs.

Adam Silverback’s head throbbed, blood ran down his shirt and denim pants. His sweat loosened the braided nylon rope and duck tape. He understood his animal-like power would return; he had to wait for that and the Gray Wolf.

He snapped his wrists and ankles free and awoke Nelson. The Mountain Gorillas would show no mercy to Bill and Nelson. He activated the replica scarlet diamond GPs on his finger.

Nelson picked up Bill’s knife from the windowpane. The blade was dyed scarlet with Silverback’s and Ivory’s blood. Nelson headed for the Jeep Wrangler. Several times, a gray wolf encircled the Jeep Wrangler, nearly concealed by the incredible darkness. Nelson couldn’t see much of anything except the moon, the commander of the desert night.

“Bill!” Nelson yelled before getting into the driver’s seat of the Jeep Wrangler.

The aquarium was tossed like a washcloth through the windowpane and shattered into a hundred pieces. Silverback was standing unbound and chewing on the belly of a piranha. Nelson turned on the Jeep’s Wrangler headlights, and Ivory stepped in front of Silverback, her left shoulder wrapped in a king-size pillowcase.

The gray wolf jumped on top of the Jeep with Bill’s middle finger that wore a signet ring gripped in its massive teeth. It attacked the windshield with its great paws.

Nelson panicked and reversed the Jeep Wrangler. Horrified, he took flight without waiting for Bill. Scared for his life, he prayed. And he would attempt to be righteous and promise God for the first time in his life.

“It wasn’t my wish to burglarize the Smokies. Nelson cried nervously. “I never realized there was merit to Silverback’s reputation; I believed it was total bullshit, but the scarlet ring was real.

Ivory had worn it that whole time as a navel piercing. Nelson scrutinized while he tilted the rearview mirror lower. The scarlet ring had rolled away from the shadow of the seat belt’s buckle.

“I have it! I won’t be a moving archery target for the boss. So, fuck the Mountain Gorillas and their leader, Silverback!”

The red-bellied piranhas swam in multiple directions inside the basin of the plugged sink of the lavatory. The piranhas have been ungoverned for too long; they began cannibalizing each other despite their mistress’s return.

“The Mountain Gorillas are coming, worse than the cosmic Gray Wolf. Because they were vengeful,” Silverback said. He listened for Ivory’s soft voice, the strikes of roaring engines, and the Gray Wolf’s icy howl.